Regime change

Regime change is the forcible or coerced replacement of one government regime with another. Use of the term dates to at least 1925.[1] Regime change may replace all or part of the state's most critical leadership system, administrative apparatus, or bureaucracy. Regime change may occur through domestic processes, such as revolution, coup, or reconstruction of government following state failure or civil war.[2] It can also be imposed on a country by foreign actors through invasion, overt or covert interventions, or coercive diplomacy.[3][4] In addition to replacing one government with another, regime change may entail the construction of new institutions, the restoration of old institutions, and the promotion of new ideologies.[3]


Internal regime change

Regime change can be precipitated by revolution or a coup d'état. The Russian Revolution, the 1962 Burmese coup, the Iranian Revolution and the 1990 dissolution of the Eastern Bloc are consummate examples.[citation needed] Examples of internally driven regime change are the establishment of the French Fifth Republic (1958) and the Federation of Australia.

Foreign-imposed regime change

Foreign-imposed regime change is the deposing of a regime by a foreign state, which can be achieved through covert means or by direct military action. Interstate war can also culminate into a foreign-imposed regime change for the losers, as occurred for the Axis Powers in 1945. Foreign-imposed regime change is sometimes used by states as a foreign policy tool.[5] According to a dataset by Alexander Downes, 120 leaders have been successfully removed through foreign-imposed regime change between 1816 and 2011.[3]

During the Cold War, the United States frequently intervened in elections and engaged in attempts at regime change, both covertly and overtly.[6][7][8]


Studies by Alexander Downes, Lindsey O'Rourke and Jonathan Monten indicate that foreign-imposed regime change seldom reduces the likelihood of civil war,[3] violent removal of the newly imposed leader,[3] and the probability of conflict between the intervening state and its adversaries,[9][3] as well as does not increase the likelihood of democratization (unless regime change comes with pro-democratic institutional changes in countries with favorable conditions for democracy).[10] Downes argues,[3]

The strategic impulse to forcibly oust antagonistic or non-compliant regimes overlooks two key facts. First, the act of overthrowing a foreign government sometimes causes its military to disintegrate, sending thousands of armed men into the countryside where they often wage an insurgency against the intervener. Second, externally-imposed leaders face a domestic audience in addition to an external one, and the two typically want different things. These divergent preferences place imposed leaders in a quandary: taking actions that please one invariably alienates the other. Regime change thus drives a wedge between external patrons and their domestic protégés or between protégés and their people.

Research by Nigel Lo, Barry Hashimoto, and Dan Reiter has contrasting findings, as they find that interstate "peace following wars last longer when the war ends in foreign-imposed regime change."[11] However, research by Reiter and Goran Peic finds that foreign-imposed regime change can raise the probability of civil war.[12]

By country

See also


  1. "Regime change effort denied". Los Angeles Times. 1 Aug 1925. p. 8. Cited in Oxford English Dictionary s.v. regime.CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  2. Hale, Henry E. (2013-05-10). "Regime Change Cascades: What We Have Learned from the 1848 Revolutions to the 2011 Arab Uprisings". Annual Review of Political Science. 16 (1): 331–353. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-212204. ISSN 1094-2939.
  3. Downes, Alexander B. (2021). Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-6115-7.
  4. Levin, Dov; Lutmar, Carmela (2020-04-30). "Violent Regime Change: Causes and Consequences". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.1954. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  5. Peic, Goran (July 2011). "Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920-2004". British Journal of Political Science. 41 (3): 453–475. doi:10.1017/s0007123410000426. S2CID 154222973 via JSTOR.
  6. Levin, Dov H. (2019-01-01). "Partisan electoral interventions by the great powers: Introducing the PEIG Dataset". Conflict Management and Peace Science. 36 (1): 88–106. doi:10.1177/0738894216661190. ISSN 0738-8942. S2CID 157114479.
  7. O’Rourke, Lindsey A. (2019-11-29). "The Strategic Logic of Covert Regime Change: US-Backed Regime Change Campaigns during the Cold War". Security Studies. 0: 92–127. doi:10.1080/09636412.2020.1693620. ISSN 0963-6412. S2CID 213588712.
  8. Levin, Dov H. (2016-06-01). "When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results". International Studies Quarterly. 60 (2): 189–202. doi:10.1093/isq/sqv016. ISSN 0020-8833.
  9. Downes, Alexander B.; O'Rourke, Lindsey A. (2016). "You Can't Always Get What You Want: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Seldom Improves Interstate Relations". International Security. 41 (2): 43–89. doi:10.1162/ISEC_a_00256. ISSN 0162-2889.
  10. Downes, Alexander B.; Monten, Jonathan (2013). "Forced to Be Free? Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization". International Security. 37 (4): 90–131. ISSN 0162-2889.
  11. Lo, Nigel; Hashimoto, Barry; Reiter, Dan (2008). "Ensuring Peace: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Postwar Peace Duration, 1914–2001". International Organization. 62 (4): 717–736. doi:10.1017/S0020818308080259. ISSN 1531-5088.
  12. Peic, Goran; Reiter, Dan (2011). "Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920–2004". British Journal of Political Science. 41 (3): 453–475. doi:10.1017/S0007123410000426. ISSN 1469-2112.